July in Indie Games started very slowly, with barely any games out by 7th July. It then sped up a bit but nearly everything turned out to be plain, boring, or just rubbish. Luckily, the good stuff that arrived this month is still really good and you should of course try it all!
You can buy any of these games via xbox.com by clicking the link associated with each game, or on the Games Marketplace on your Xbox 360. Simply enter the marketplace and scroll up to Indie Games, where you can check the top rated titles, the games that have just come out, or “browse” to find the games mentioned here. Indie Game trials last eight minutes, which is often enough to establish what you think about it. Even if you don’t buy any of these games, at least trial them, tell people what you think, get more people trying them.
Go. Play. Enjoy. Tell us what you think! Tell all your friends! Get them to tell all their friends…
(Xbox LIVE Indie Games are available in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States. If you’re outside those countries you can still play these games by setting up a Gamertag for free for one of those countries. It’s worth doing.)
So, the games!
PLATFORMANCE: Castle Pain is pretty clearly the best thing this month, for entirely different reasons than Old School Racer was the best thing last month.
I loved Old School Racer for the amazing amount of content it offered for your 80 Microsoft Points. I love PLATFORMANCE precisely for how little it appears to offer. The game has one single level and you can see the whole thing in the screenshot above. It’s a wonderful level, though, and it’s sort of the point.
While it’s a platform game, obviously, it’s more of a speed run game than a game where you simply try to rescue the princess. The controls allow for this excellently, and the graphics are clearly awesome and the hazards are always really clear.
One level though, that’s too short, surely? Well, yeah, you can do it in under five minutes too. But that’s in easy mode, play in normal or hardcore modes and the hazards are multiplied and there’s no way you’ll be getting through in five minutes. It’s not about getting to the end, it’s about getting to the end without dying and as quickly as you can, and there’s tons of gameplay when that’s your goal because the level is so fun that you have no issue with playing it over and over again.
There’s one huge problem with the game, a lack of leaderboards. For something that’s so focussed on speed runs and getting through without dying, a leaderboard should be a no-brainer. As it is, we’re stuck comparing your times elsewhere. So, what’s your best time?
Wordsearch Rush I entered expecting to roll my eyes and exit, but it kept my attention for the entire game. You do a simple wordsearch based on a category: animals, elements, loads of others. It doesn’t tell you what words to look for but you can use a hint to find out if you’re stuck. You choose whether you want to find 3, 5, or 7 words based on the category you’ve been given and then you’re thrown into the grid with a time limit, and you find what you can.
If you find them all you get a points bonus depending on how long each word took and how many you chose to find. You then get a wordsearch minigame to win more time or a hint back. Then you move onto another grid.
It’s the most bizarrely compelling score-attack game ever, seriously, and I know you’re looking at it thinking “wordsearches? Really?” because that’s what I did, but you should really give it a go. Let it surprise you.
Lumi is certainly the prettiest game of the month, and comes from Kydos who also released the very pretty Soul earlier in the year. It’s a platform game where you jump between light rings to collect fireflys and bring light to the world.
Now, there have been complaints. The first is that the game doesn’t make it clear how to jump longer distances. It does, though. If you’re on a blue light ring, you hold LT to spin around it and can jump off at any point – if you jump off holding RT though, you’re repelled far further and can cover great distances. Launch from red light rings in a similar way. It’s second nature within minutes
The other complaint comes from instant-death gameplay and how hard the game suddenly becomes but let me ask you this; when did we, as gamers, become such wusses? The game is hard, so what, we used to practice and get better! When did we start giving up so easily?
It’s 400 Microsoft Points, but for a Dream.Build.Play winner, and a game this good, that’s a small investment.
Ophidian Wars: Opac’s Journey is a platformer from SmallCaveGames. Essentially, and most importantly, it gets jumping right and as a result it feels lovely to play.
There’s no enemies and it’s purely about exploring and gaining new skills, upgrading them and exploring some more. As a result, it’s a beautifully stress free platforming experience and if you’re looking to chill out and haven’t read as far as Pocoro yet, it’s a great game to relax with.
At present you can’t save a game in progress and must finish it in one sitting, but that’s doable with the game taking around 60-90 minutes to explore. Just make sure you’ve got the time beforehand – or wait for a patch with saves turned on!
Aphelion is an excellent attempt at an RPG which we’re actually getting pretty well catered for on Xbox LIVE Indie Games, despite the long development time and small prices which you’d expect to make them impossible to justify.
You’re in space, stuff’s gone down. Okay, it’s not the newest experience but there’s a lot to do with customising items and such like, which can take a five hour experience beyond that if you let it. The battle system is basic but balanced and fun and fun is all you can ask for.
Avaglide is that rarest of beasts, an avatar game that isn’t rubbish. The dev has previous experience though, they’re responsible for Crate Expectations which looks a lot like Sokoban but is actually a competitive crate pushing game, so hopes were higher that this wouldn’t be rubbish
You hang glide. It controls really nicely but has far more depth to it than you’d expect. It requires a lot of balance in when to drop and ascend because if you lose your momentum on the way up, the only other way is down. There’s some different game modes, you can race through rings and collect stars, or drop stuff on targets. Every mode scores you differently and it’ll take a decent level of skill and expertise to maximise those scores, but it’s good enough that you want to do it.
It’s probably the only avatar game that feels like a game rather than a five second experience that should be in WarioWare.
Sleepwalker is a really interesting puzzle game. You’re a guy who is sleepwalking and your only control is to make him face left or right, he always goes forward. You use this to get him over obstacles or solve puzzles. It’s a brilliant idea, and it’s been really well executed here. The only problem is the length, it’s a very short game. Definitely needs to be trialled though.
Decay – Part 2 is, obviously, the sequel to Decay – Part 1. There’s more content than the original game but it very much requires the purchase of that first part to get as much out of it as you could. That first part costs $3 for about ten minutes of content and is terrible value for money, however brilliantly atmospheric it is. If you were burned by it before though, you’re much safer with Part 2.
Spaceship Game for Kids, you’ve seen the title and thought, “no.” Actually though, it’s at least worth a trial. It looks quite nice flying around but mainly, it made me laugh. Give it a couple of minutes play and I can near guarantee that you’ll chuckle too. Not enough to buy it probably, unless you have a kid, but it’ll raise a smile. It’s a nice attempt at a kid game.
This Way That Way is a quite interesting puzzle game, but it looks horrible which will affect its take-up, no doubt. You can move up/down/left/right and have to make it across a grid to the exit. The thing is though, once you’ve moved left you’re not allowed to move left again until you’ve moved right, up, and down. Could use an undo feature, too. Lots of issues then, yeah, but a very interesting idea at its core, and worth having a go with.
Air Forte is actually pretty awesome, the presentation is top notch, menus and everything look lovely. The game itself gives you a number of floating orbs and a task, “multiple of xx” and you have to fly through all the orbs that fit the bill. It’s simple, and would be excellent for kids learning math(s), but it’s worth a look just to see how nice it all looks. Quite enjoyed playing it, and the full version contains loads of extra modes including vocabulary. Try it.
Opposites. You only need to look at the screenshots to realise that this is the most genius idea for multiplayer Tetris ever. A black side shooting white blocks, and a white side shooting black blocks, both aiming to the same point in the middle. So the more they shoot, the bigger the white side gets, etc. Turns out it’s sort of hard to follow. It also suffers from the same problems every Tetris clone does, it thinks that Tetris isn’t perfect and can be improved upon. So it adds new block shapes and sizes. Ruins it. Doesn’t control the best on the 360 pad either, unfortunately. Still, an awesome concept.
Avatar Pinball. I clicked the “play game” button, filled to the brim with dread. Turns out though, it’s not that bad. It’s massively creepy, seeing your avatar with their neck totally snapped, but the game itself is much better than I was expecting. Unfortunately all the sensible modes are locked in the trial so all you can play is the one where you use your avatar as the ball and left/right to move the avatar around which makes the game pretty easy, you’ll never fall down the middle, for example. The physics seem OK to me, though there’s an option to play with a ball which would make it easier to judge, not available in the trial. The big problem, I guess, is that there’s only one table and it’s fairly basic and you’ll tire of it pretty quickly. It’s not a bad pinball game though.
Gumzoobo! – COMIC SANS WARNING. Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one before. You’re in a single-screen 2D level and you have to shoot bubbles at enemies at which point they float up and you jump at them to make them die. Then they turn into fruit which you collect for pointages. Defeat all the enemies to progress. Familiar? There’s a few annoyances with the controls and the collision detection but for only 80 points it’s not bad and it comes loaded with power-ups and stuff. The trial time-limit ran out which is always a good sign ’cause it held my attention for at least that long!
radiangames Crossfire is a bit like Pixel Whirled, an older Xbox LIVE Indie Game. It’s Space Invaders but you can flip your ship from the top to the bottom of the screen to avoid fire and collect bonuses that are in the middle of the play area. There’s a lot to think about and it’s a really interesting, really nice looking take on what’s a fairly stale experience ordinarily.
Some games are bad. Really bad. So bad that they don’t even deserve a functioning link to the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. But if you’re in the mood for some punishment, or just want to be reminded how much better the games above are, check these out, last month’s most terrible games.
Super Avatar World is awful. I pressed “play” on the dashboard and then the next day when the game actually loaded, I found it was awful. The jumping is crap, the enemies don’t fit into the world whatsoever because they’re of a completely different style. It’s kinda funny, the dev clearly couldn’t do 3D animation so all the moving stuff is 2D, which completely jars with the ready-made avatars they had at their disposal. Unplayable.
Avatar Bowling is actually hilarious, I played it for exactly one shot. I rolled the ball, and got a seven-ten split. I waited for twenty seconds while one of the pins very slowly hovered further and further left, and then the scorecard awarded me a strike. Trial exited at that point.
Superboise, who are Silver Dollar Games with avatars, release the pointless Avatar High Five in which you press A to hi-five, and then you, no, wait, that’s literally it.
The Quest for Freshness is tower defence. I didn’t kill a single enemy though, because it’s SO FREAKING SLOW that the trial would have expired before the first enemy reached my defences.
Killa Hurtz is hands down the worst game of the month. It’s a kart racer but the tracks (or at least the track in the trial) are near impossible to navigate because you just can’t see where the track goes. There’s an arrow to point you in the right direction but it’s so slow to react, it doesn’t actually tell you where to go until you’ve already gone the wrong way and got lost. Even with the arrow pointing the right way it’s not that obvious where to go half the time. Weapons are annoying. Cars handle like crap, and there appears to be an area where controls are randomly inverted which makes them handle even crappier. I can’t find a single good word to say about this game. A ridiculously frustrating experience.
Flight Adventure could be the best flight simulator in the world, if you’re already a pilot and know how to fly a plane. There are no tutorials, no hints at how to fly, nothing at all to make the game accessible to newcomers. When you eventually take off, you’ll find that the sky is a solid shade of blue so it’s impossible to actually tell where you’re going unless you understand all the dials which, of course, the game doesn’t explain to you.
Obesity Epidemic, or to give it a better title “I MAED A GAM3 W1TH FAT PE0PLE!!!1″ – but not very well.
And to end on an awesome note…
Every month, we’ll revisit a couple of games that you may have missed from months gone by. These games are lost in the depths of the Games Marketplace, pull them out of there!
Ladybird Galaxy has an awesome risk/reward scoring mechanic that really makes it much more exciting than the screenshot might suggest it is.
You control a spaceship that moves ever forward, and you can rotate it left or right. You have to collect gems which you get a few points for. If you collect stars though, you speed riiiiight up and it’s becomes harder to control but at the same time your multiplier goes up and you’ll get higher and higher scores. It’s a lovely mechanic.
There’s some nice balance too, see that laser in the screenshot? Occasionally it sweeps across the screen and kills you unless you get off the side of the screen before it, so if you’ve been sloooowly accumulating your score one gem at a time, then you probably won’t have the speed you need to avoid it.
Charming, well-balanced, amazing risk/reward gameplay. What’s your high score?
Pocoro was the first Xbox LIVE Indie Game I ever bought. I’d given up on them, see, the early onslaught of rubbish was too much for me to deal with and every box art was more hideous than the next. Then Pocoro appeared with its gorgeous box art and I was compelled to try it.
Gorgeous is what the game is. Maybe not in looks, but in atmosphere. It has the most chilled soundtrack and appearance, and the whole thing is incredibly relaxing. I once described it as being “like playing a dream,” which if you try it, hopefully you can understand.
The game itself doesn’t disappoint either, it’s a really cool puzzler. You have a set of numbers and you have to step on each square that number of times and then get to the exit. It’s simple to play, but gets tougher later on as the layouts get more complex.
It still has the best box art on the Indie Games service, in my opinion.